Lets face it, Stephen King is the most successful writer in American, and has been for many years. I do not believe he ever received the acclaim from critics he truly deserved. He has done better with them in more recent years, but that is because, in his own words, (paraphrasing) “The critics who initially trashed me have died off, the newer critics I scared when they were teenager’s and I get credit for that”. As well he should. It is more than just scaring people however. You have to have characters who draw you in enough so you will be scared for them, and King creates characters that get your attention. Love them or hate them you are drawn in to the characters and their struggles. Which is what good fiction is really all about. Regardless of the setting, be it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, historical fiction even. Without good characters it all falls apart.
I also think many of his critics are academics and academics are a strange breed. I have recently finished 4 years attaining a degree and I can attest to this, they, we, are strange. A big problem I always had with fellow academics is that they have a layer of snobbishness that seems to come hand in hand with studying literature. I never built this layer up, but I was around it enough to recognize it. For some reason, most writers who manage to become popular enough to make a better than average living are frowned upon by many academics. If a piece is not “socially relevant” or written by someone long dead, there is a problem. Still not sure why that is but it is, I believe, the reason for the critical drumming King has received. He is neither dead, and makes a better than average living for his work. I say congratulations on making a living and not being dead, both are an accomplishment. His writing is a huge accomplishment on par with those.
The being popular thing is also a reason for his lack of critical acclaim. I think academics need to feel like they are in an exclusive club. When millions of average people like something it can not be good, to them anyway. For me, just because something is not to my tastes does not make it bad, it just means it is not to my tastes. This is true of all forms of art but especially in writing. Reading is not like watching an action film or t.v. show. Reading a Stephen King novel is a commitment of time that our society does not give up lightly. So anyone who can write a book that keeps millions of people riveted for hours on end, is obviously doing something right. This is a formula of thought I have subscribed to for years. (except where reality t.v. is concerned, its all crap). For instance I am not a big Madonna fan, yet she is obviously doing something right, she is still here and beloved. So is King and if we are lucky he will continue to thrill us, entertain us, and keep up thinking for years to come. To hell with the critics.
That being said, what King books are your favorites? Which ones make you hide beneath the covers?